Chelsea, still winless since January’s spending spree, are in big, big trouble
The biggest problem with Chelsea’s January spending spree wasn’t the sheer amount of money. It wasn’t the UK record $130m paid for Enzo Fernandez or the $385m total spent on transfers should add-ons materialize. It wasn’t even like the staggering spending could break any financial rules imposed by the Premier League or UEFA.
Chelsea’s problem is that even with players worth over $600m added since the summer, their team is still woefully mediocre.
The Blues have won just one game and scored just four goals in 2023. They haven’t won in five games since January and scored just one. After a 2-0 defeat at Tottenham on Sunday, they sit tied in 10th place, with a negative goal difference, closer to bottom of the Premier League than the top four.
They are therefore staring at a 2023-24 season without any European competition to compete and The Here the future becomes ominous; there will be problems.
It is foolish to pass judgment on Fernandez and his colleagues after a month. It’s similarly unfair to conclude that all summer signings are flops. Some are young. All need time to gel. And besides, the past two months have been deceptive. A set of underlying figures suggests that Chelsea are indeed one of the top five EPL sides as of January 1st. Injuries, poor finishing and bad luck doomed them.
The problem with their short-term futility, however, is a medium-term loss of revenue that could see Chelsea complying with the rules above – and particularly the Financial Fair Play (FFP) limits set by European football’s governing body UEFA.
FFP caps spending on player transfers and salaries, with each club’s cap being a function of its income. Thanks to complicated depreciation rules, most experts have calculated Chelsea FC should be able to comply with FFP at presentthanks in large part to the roughly $600 million in revenue it brought in last season. But as the popular Swiss Ramble blog even concludes in a comprehensive breakdown of the club’s finances Before Fernandez buying: “If they don’t qualify for the Champions League all bets will be void.”
After Fernandez’s purchase, the conclusion was stronger: “If Chelsea don’t qualify for the Champions League, they would find it very difficult to make their FFP calculations work out.”
Spending well over $600m, Chelsea, under the leadership of new American owner Todd Boehly, seemed expecting their annual Champions League fortunes to continue. All Champions League entrants receive tens of millions in prize money from UEFA, and the four English clubs that qualify each year often receive in excess of US$100m.
But if Chelsea don’t make it into the top four of the EPL – they are now 14 points behind Tottenham, with five teams between them and 14 games left – they won’t get that stroke of luck.
If it finishes fifth or sixth, it could get a few tens of millions of euros from the Europa League, or a much smaller payout from the third-tier Conference League if it finishes seventh. But even those results could have cascading implications for Chelsea’s future.
Every single one of his revenue streams would become shallower. It would lose premiums in ongoing sponsorship deals and become less attractive to potential sponsors. It would play fewer games and lose significant game day revenue. It would receive a smaller chunk of Premier League TV money on top of the reduced or non-existent UEFA payout.
And it would become even more desperate to fire players. With a bloated squad and a payroll, Chelsea will need to sell this summer and beyond. His problem in that department is that other clubs know this. Potential buyers all have leverage. The final fees for the likes of Hakim Ziyech and Christian Pulisic are likely to be lower than expected.
Each of these overwhelming returns essentially lowers Chelsea’s spending cap. It limits future business. But of course a lot of money has already been spent. So, to avoid breaches, the club could be forced to sell even more players, including those they would otherwise prefer to keep. (Or it could just accept that it’s likely to break the rules and hope the penalties are fines rather than sporting sanctions.)
There is also a general concern that many of the players who have been featured at Stamford Bridge are actually not that good. With Boehly seemingly in charge despite his complete lack of football knowledge, the Blues overspent on unremarkable players like Marc Cucurella. And they haven’t addressed their biggest shortcoming, their toothlessness in front of goal. They’ve now scored less than a goal a game this Premier League season, but they’ve spent over $200m on two players – Fernandez and Mykhailo Mudryk – who had combined for 16 senior-career goals in Portugal and Ukraine.
As a team, they will certainly improve. But in every sense, short and long term, on the field and on the balance sheet, they are a mess.